Maryland Attorney General Francis B. Burch's plea bargain agreement with Pallottine priest Guido John Carcich has drawn such angry public response that Burch fears it may harm his campaign for governor.
"The truth is the public is upset," Burch said yesterday, one week after announcement of the agreement that gave Carcich probation for a guilty plea to charges he mishandled more than $2 million donated for the poor.
Burch said in an interview that his office has received more negative calls on the plea bargain than on any subject in Burch's 12 years as attorney general.
Burch said he would confer with his professional campaign consultants for advice on how to counteract the response.
Under the plea agreement, Carcich, the fund-raising mastermind of the Pallottine Fathers religious charity, was placed on 18 months probation, during which the priest is to live in a parish house in Baltimore while ministering to the needs of state prison inmates for a year.
The agreement, abruptly ending one of the most extensive criminal investigations in Maryland history, brought an initial reaction from lawyers that Carcich had gotten "a sweet deal." That reaction has been echoed by the public.
However, Burch asserted yesterday that he believes there is a "serious misunderstanding" about the case by the public.
He also reasserted his contention that the penalty is "a more meaningful result" than could have been achieved through trial, even if Carcich had been convicted.
Burch is campaigning for the Democratic nomination for governor against the widest field in a decade: Acting Gov. Blair Lee III, Baltimore County Executive Ted Venetoulis, Baltimore City Council President Walter S. Orlinsky, State Senate President Steny Hoyer and former state Transportation Secretary Harry R. Hughes.
In a article he wrote for the Baltimore Evening Sun yesterday, Burch defended the plea agreement and conceded that he and his staff would "have had difficulty in proving many of the charges that had been brought against Father Carcich.
The original indictment of Carcich, handed up by a grand jury in January, charged that the priest had embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars donated for the poor.
Burch said the public perception that Carcich took the money for himself, as in a theft, was an incorrect one which may have contributed to the anger. "The truth is he didn't take" the money, Burch said. "He secreted" it in bank accounts.
Burch explained that a stack of important documents prosecutors sought in their investigation was received "about 10 minutes" before expiration of the term of the grand jury that voted the Carcich indictment.
Laterr, after reviewing these documents, prosecutors found there was a "not less involved in the misappropriation" than they originally believed.
Burch said the case ultimately boiled down to $30,000 which Carcich had loaned to people active for years on the Pallonttine Funds behalf and the loan of a house bought with Pallottine funds to Carcich's niece. "We're ultimately reduced to $30,000 and the use of a house," Burch said in the interview.
Asked whether the prosecutors had "over-indicted" Carcich, Burch said, "No," adding. "We have no apologies to anyone for the indictment based on what we knew then."
Burch said he "knew there would be lots of furor (over the plea bargain), but it was a calculated risk I took."
In the Sun article, Burch also said, "There are those who say, and will continue to say, that I allowed this to happen because I am a Catholic. This is not true."
He said that had Carcich been found guilty after a trial, it is likely he would have been sentenced to no more than two years, a sentence that would have allowed parole within five months.
The attorney general said in his article he accepted the plea bargain because "it seemed to me, in my so doing, justice was best served."
During The Post interview, he said he hoped the public in the future would say, "Here's a guy willing to take in on the chin to do what has to be done."